DAY 181, October 30, ALBERTA VILLAGE – Bisecting life into six-month chunks is easier said than done and requires some thinking and planning. Luck doesn’t hurt the cause (here, think weather, as in no progress-impeding snow). This is our last full day in the Yoop this year, we will soon BTB until spring begins to show down below and we’ll scurry back north to see the last of the snow. There is no great joy of anticipation in going “home.” We do look forward to family and friends and to a certain degree, the familiarity of our surrounds, but Jambe Longues and I have nomadic hearts and require a minimum of “stuff,” or even “space,” to sustain us. We lived at one time in 288 square feet for five years. It was enough to sustain who and what we are.
The great draw for us here is true solace, and a degree of solitude not possible in our other abode, that is, the ability to be alone together and mostly free of manmade reminders and fragments of civilization – you know, sirens, aircraft taking off and landing, train whistles at 0400, major thunder of traffic two miles north on I-94, kids in their cars with music loud enough to shatter dinosaur hearts, bicycles all over the walking routes, speeding by in silence and not a shred of courtesy, people walking all manner of dogs, the walkers seemingly scared shitless of any form of life encountered on such walks and with the attitude that every approaching dog and stranger is a potential attacker and so they greet you with shakes and evil-eyes and look ready to run on first hint of perceived threat, or city park rangers who ride the bike trails in toy trucks, seldom dismounting, seldom stopping to talk to path users and taxpayers.
We are Seussian in our outlook on life, as good a sensible and romantic philosophy as any put forth in formal belief systems.
Our choices seem to always rotate around the U.P. You see, we like being NEIGHBORS with bears, and moose, and skunks and wolves and all the rest, rather than having to look at such creatures rotting in cages or behind fences in yards stacking up year upon year of critter poo.
This year was our first in a tiny, semi college campus with 16 homes, 12 of which have year-round residents. Our house was built in 1938 using hemlock boards and you cannot hear gunshots in the front yard. It is not so insulated to keep the cold out, but the furnace roared all summer like a B-25 on takeoff roll and after a while you don’t hear it any more. For two of our six months we are surrounded by ecology and forestry juniors from Michigan Tech, going about their business. By junior year and majors declared, such kids are serious about their work and keep their noses to it. It is fun to be around young folks who relish their futures with uncut optimism. As it should be. The young lady next door is 22, finishing her masters, then going off to Peace Corps training and thence to Senegal. She is from a small town north of Grand Rapids and walks with a soldier’s purpose and a diplomat’s smile. I asked how her folks felt about her assignment. She said, “They’re not happy about it, but I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do.” Good for her good for us as a country with young women like her. I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do. Yay her, walking the talk.
Over the years we’ve come to think of these six-month sorties as “summers” and we’ve begun to name them for what seems the prevailing theme of that period, which can be a small but memorable thing. This, for example, was the Summer of Hummers, our first hummingbirds arriving Wednesday, May 21, 17 of the little devils and the next day another 110 and we began to count them day by day, mostly as we thought about it and the count kept climbing until it hit 32,520 with our last 11 visitors on Sunday, September 21. We even gave the birds a new name, “rudes” – a shortened version of Evinrudes because that’s pretty close to what they sound like with their own little motors running.
One of our first summers we came OTB and fished two rivers a day for 17 straight days in whatever weather God or whoever has those controls gave us. We faltered only one day when Lonnie grabbed me: “Heywood, we need one day to do laundry and catch our breath!” We stopped, caught our breath and resumed river hopping, catching all manner of trout and smallies and pike and perch etc. That was The Summer of Chasing Trout. Three summers ago was The Summer of Recovering From Breast Cancer.
Our main vehicle is a 2001 Ford Excursion, bought new. It is now 200,000+ years old and 15 in car model years, has had five windshields, killed a few deer, a pat and a pheasant and has too many dents and dings and metallic bruises to enumerate and the Old Ford continues to answer the “bell” when we turn the key. Our dogs, first His Majesty Shanahan, and now His Majesty Shaksper came to think of the Excursion (we call it The Green Streamer) as a second home or rolling kennel. When Shaksper is unnerved and annoyed by something (think vacuum cleaner, fireworks, smoke alarms) he makes a beeline for da truck. We are not unlike the dogs in our preferences, thought the old truck seems to befuddle many family and friends who seem to think such a thing is beyond folks of a certain age. How little they know of or expect from life!
We plan to return to Alberta Village (MTU’s Ford Campus and Forest) next spring and build on our explorations of his first year here.
The fact is that I was born with a gift most people don’t recognize as a gift and that is energy, that is, a smaller need for sleep than most folks. Energy is the gift that keeps on giving, if you’re smart enough to focus it and use it. I doubt there are many successful artists, artisans, or master craftsmen who achieve success without some modicum of energy-drive helping them maintain high speed over long periods of time.
Output and quality are certainly not synonymous, and though one measure of quality is determined by the maker’s value, the other part comes from those who partake as the consumer of the thing made. All we can do is control our end of that quality measure and in that regard this has been an amazingly productive summer, one that borders on unbelievable, when one commits it to paper. This summer: 40 new short stories; edited page proofs of one novel; wrote first draft of next novel. Made 20 drawings in color pencil and 40 cartoons in our summer journal. I rarely write short stories in winter. No idea why. To this point in the year I’ve read 246 books and most recently have been plowing through the Sjowall-Wahloo “Martin Beck” series of the 1960s-1970s. Wonderful crisp, economical writing. Six more to finish the series of ten when we get BBTB (Back Below The Bridge). I’ve just recently submitted some poems for publication, always an iffy longshot deal and last spring I had a piece in GRAY’S SPORTING JOURNAL, a wonderful publication in a class all alone for beauty and quality of work published.
Even with an abundance of energy there never seems to be enough hours to do all we want to do. This summer I worked with wood artist Dave Stimac in his workshop to fashion my first dozen pieces of primitive natural art works made of agates and stones and ores and local maples (bird-eye, curly, etc) and black walnut. I also brought some blue beach up from the LP to Dave to experiment with and that it snow drying for future use. Lonnie has devised a new way of printing and is making direct prints from wildflowers and other plants and she is focused on learning all she can about lichen and trees and the food values of plants with the help of Kari Price, who used to teach about food and plants at Indiana University.
As for publishing life, that seems to be flourishing, though one must always be aware that this can change in an instant. MOUNTAINS OF THE MISBEGOTTEN was published in hardback in September. This is the second Lute Bapcat mystery. The softcover of the 9th Grady Service Woods Cop story, KILLING A COLD ONE, came out in softcover also in September.
This spring will bring my second collection of short stories, HARDER GROUND, every story with a female protagonist.The tenth Grady Service will be out in hard cover next fall. BUCKULAR DYSTROPHY. And also over the next year or so my earlier novels will be republished (TAXI DANCER, 1985), THE BERKUT (1987) and THE DOMINO CONSPIRACY (1992). My editor has also asked me to update my memoir COVERED WATERS to bring it from where it was in 2003 when it was published up to now.
Will be a point in the next few months when everything I’ve ever written will be in print with one publisher and I’m not so sure how often that happens.
2014 firearm deer season looms. I will be working with officers BTB and in my local area sown below. The experience and learning that takes place in ride along patrols contributes immensely to my grasping the internal life of game wardens and cops, how they think, etc.
As said earlier, Lonnie and I are Seussian in our shared outlook on life and I shall end today with a mix of his words and some new ones from me in his inimitable style:
Oh the things we can find when we don’t stay behind.
Today we shall behave as if this is the day we will be discovered.
Will we succeed, Yes we will indeed! Ninety eight and three quarters guaranteed.
See, from there to here and there to here there are fun things everywhere.
We shall step with care and great tact and try to remember life is a Great Balancing Act.
We’re on our own and know what we know, and we’re the ones who’ll decide where we go.
Frozen popcorn, that could be a new experience for her and me.
Or cooking dodos in a pan, add salt, and pepper with your hands. And be sure to stir the butter soon, but only please with a big wooden spoon.
This life we live comes guarantee-free, except we know we’ll all end up in eternity.
Before the end comes snicker-snack, we’ll keep on exploring the green out back and try our best to report back our track.
So get off your couch, get off your duffs, take your butts out into the rough. Open your eyes and your ears and let life bring you laughter and tears.
Remember this our friends and our fams, life is made mostly out of Spam and even in the darkest night of your lowest low, down even deeper than you thought you could go, look outside your window and it could be that you will see a beautiful light with a heart-warming glow.
You need only you to make your dreams grow and when you think you know all there is to know and seen all you can see, and been all you can be, and done all the things others call deeds, remember then that Cheerios are God’s donut seeds.